About a month ago, I asked Orlando how he wanted to celebrate his upcoming 40th birthday. “Let’s just spend the day at the beach with our family and play dominoes like we do every year,” he said nonchalantly. For years on Orlando’s birthday weekend we head over to his parents’ apartment in Hallandale. We invite some of his closest friends, put up some tents, bring down some food, and Orlando plays dominoes while the kids frolic in the sand. A part of me felt this milestone birthday should be a little more grandiose than the same ole, same ole but another part of me felt I should honor his wishes. I settled on making his beach day as special as I could.
I spent the whole month planning and plotting. Among other surprises, I hired a cigar-roller for the event and designed labels for hot sauce bottles that read “Orlando’s still HOT at 40.” I purchased Hawaiian leis for the guests, grass skirts for the tables, and beach balls for the kids. I dove into the details of the party to make the day all about Orlando.
Unbeknownst to me, Orlando had plans of his own for that beach day, and those plans had nothing to do with his 40th birthday. For the same month that I was planning his party, Orlando was orchestrating a wedding vow renewal for our 10-year anniversary, which we had celebrated in February. For years Orlando and I had discussed renewing our vows at ten years. The idea was to have a big party for our family and friends and reaffirm our vows to each other in front of our children. Even though I dreamt of this, by the time February rolled around, time had escaped us. We spent the preceding months traveling and hosting celebrations for Christmas and each of our sons’ birthdays. The thought of yet another party and expense was exhausting. I must also confess that I didn’t see Orlando that excited about the idea, so I felt the renewal was more for myself than for “us.” That, and not being much of a party planner, demotivated me from plunging forward. As I planned his birthday, I did realize something. As much as I disliked the idea of having another party, I planned it happily because it was for my husband. Little did I know that day would be all about me.
On the day of the beach party, Orlando seemed nervous. His aunt had ordered chairs for the domino tables that were scheduled to arrive at 1pm. Guests arrived, the food arrived, but no chairs. A couple of hours passed and Orlando grew increasingly anxious. I didn’t get it. I had worked so hard to make this day special for Orlando yet he wasn’t enjoying himself at all. I had even worn a dress that his mom bought because he wanted me to look pretty. All the work I put into this thing, even down to my outfit, was for him. I wanted everything to be perfect for Orlando. Why was he so frustrated? I secretly hoped the day would turn around but I had no idea what was going to happen next.
I found myself walking alongside my husband when a neighbor called us over to the spot under the tree that he parks his beach chair every weekend. “Great party!” He exclaimed with a big smile on his face. “Oh and I heard there’s a vow renewal happening also.” Those words reminded me there was a wedding happening that very evening that my mother in law had told me about. Before I had the opportunity to say what I was thinking – is it a vow renewal or a wedding – my husband snapped. “You just ruined the surprise buddy,” he took me by the hand and headed back over to our tents.
Suddenly Orlando was calling for everyone’s attention. “Gather around everyone, they just spilled the beans to my wife.”
What on Earth is he talking about?
“Caroline, you thought today was just my birthday party but today is in fact April Fool’s Day. You have been tricked. Our pastor is 15 minutes away and we will be renewing our vows today.”
Oh, my God. He can’t be serious.
I tried to grasp everything he was saying but I was utterly shocked.
Renew our vows? Our pastor is coming? Is this for real?
My immediate reaction was to cry. I was overwhelmed with emotions as much as confusion. After the clapping died down and family had congratulated us, I hugged my husband with love and disbelief.
“This is not how I wanted this to go,” he said solemnly. “What do you mean?” I asked. “Caroline, I’ve been planning this for a month. The chairs Kika ordered – those were not only for dominoes – they were for our wedding. We also ordered a beautiful trellis, but the vendor never showed up.” I could see the disappointment in his face as he continued, “I wanted my mom to take you upstairs so when you came back down I would be waiting for you in front of the trellis. The pastor would be standing there with me but you would not be able to see her because all our friends and family would cover her. When you began walking, the family would part to each side and you would see our beloved pastor and me waiting for you. I wanted everything to be perfect for you, and everything went wrong.” The more he spoke the more I realized how much love he had put into this day. All I could think about was while I was putting all my love to honor Orlando, he was putting all his love to honor me.
Since the cat was out of the bag, Orlando took my hand and together we walked to the lobby of his parents’ apartment building, where Pastor Laurie patiently waited for us. I took one look at her and my eyes welled with tears. Pastor Laurie has been a spiritual blessing for me through some of the most difficult moments in my life, including my father’s death. I could not believe that she came all the way to Hallandale for me. Ironically, as we hugged, I saw from the corner of my eye white chairs being unloaded from a delivery truck. The vendor had confused the date of the event for Sunday. When my frantic aunt, Kika, called to inquire where they were, they packed up their van and flew to Hallandale as fast as they could. We walked back to the beach and I stood in the back with family as the vendors set up the trellis and the chairs. Within 15 minutes all of Orlando’s plans had come to life sans my grand entrance. My cousin handed me the most beautiful flower bouquet and my three children stood by my side to escort me down the beach towards my husband. My father in law held a speaker that played Orlando and my wedding song.
Orlando and I stood in front of our pastor holding hands with our little boys nestled between us and we heard her beautiful words about marriage and love. We prayed together and affirmed our love for each other in front of our closest family and a few of our friends. I have never, in all my life, felt more special, more loved or more grateful than I was at that very moment. I could not have asked for anything more perfect.
I now understood Orlando’s stress and why he was not enjoying his birthday. I thought about the old saying “if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” That happens to all of us. We want things to go our way. We plan and prepare and we hope everything works out perfectly, but often life does not follow our plan. The truth is that seeing the pastor at the front of the trellis instead of the lobby had no bearing on my experience. Just like the personalized Happy Birthday Orlando cigar rings I ordered had no bearing on Orlando’s experience. What each of us appreciated from the other was the thought, the effort, and the love with which we approached the day. What mattered was that each of us felt that we were the most important person in the world to the other.
I learned something that day. Marriage is not perfect. Life is not perfect. Tragedies happen, people make mistakes, plans fall through the cracks. We often get hung up on all that goes wrong in life, instead of zeroing in on the beauty of it. No matter how many things go wrong, where there is love, there is perfection.
I say we cherish these imperfectly perfect moments and we pile as many of them on as we can. For it is these memories, and the love that surrounds them, that our children and those we love will keep in their hearts long after we’re gone.